laicité

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by Karlie88, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. Karlie88 Junior Member

    Hi,

    I am currently preparing a 2 minute oral presentation for a french exam on laicité in french schools and in particular the problems posed with girls wearing a Muslim headscarf.

    I was just wondering what people think of laicité, in particular any french people. It is a difficult concept for an english person to understand and it is harder to understand what french peoples views are on this.

    I look forward to hearing your views.

    Thanks
     
  2. mansio Senior Member

    France/Alsace
    There are three questions in your post.
    What do the French think of laicity, what do they think of laicity at school and what do they think about the scarf wearing at school.
    First question: laicity belongs to our everyday life. We accept it without any problem.
    Second: Same answer as first question.
    Third: Most people accept the banning of the scarf, except part of the muslims of course and some non-muslims who think the freedom to wear what you like should also apply in schools.

    If you have more questions?
     
  3. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    French people swear by secularism. In general, France is a post religious society. Most people don't practice a religion, others just go through the motions once in a while out of tradition. For example, non-believers might have their children do first communion at the church, because it's what everyone does and it's a celebration. Quite a few people view organized religion little more than mythology, something that only exists when people are not educated in philosophy and science.
    Most people I know believe that muslim immigrants ought to slowly abandon their religion in the same way Catholic Frenchmen have, or at least water it down, and never talk about it. Religion is not something people talk much about in France, and some people might feel offended to see someone practicing a religion. I have heard people say they feel shocked to see women wearing muslim headwear, even more so if it is a full chador or burka. People say things like "I shouldn't have to see that. I don't want to know about that religion or be reminded of it.... etc." Showing religious symbols is very negatively viewed in France. In schools and other buildings there are reminders telling people that it is not accepted in France to cover oneself. It is enforced and in general respected.
    Such strong laicité seems strange from people coming from countries where religion is valued or encouraged, and it's hard to understand why secularism is such a treasured thing in France and can provoke such strong sentiments.
     
  4. EvanWilliams

    EvanWilliams Senior Member

    North Texas- US of A
    English-USA-Southern
    If you accept the government's schools then you accept the government's rules.

    If religion is very important to you then by all means send your child to a private religious school.
     
  5. ESustad Senior Member

    Washington, DC
    English - (Minnesota)
    I always think of laicity as freedom from religion, and secularism as freedom of religion. Laicity has an element of hostility toward religion, arising from the overbearing role the Catholic Church had in pre-revolutionary French society.
     
  6. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    I've never thought of there being a difference, laicity/laïcité (does this word really exist in English?) and secularism are the same thing for me. It's just the way it is played out in France is much stronger and more embedded in the cultural mores than in other countires, like the USA.
     
  7. ESustad Senior Member

    Washington, DC
    English - (Minnesota)
    I understand a distinction in French, between the terms séculaire and laïc. Granted, the former is rarely used in French, whereas laique is seldom used in English. The French and the Anglo-Americans have different applications of the concept though. The French are more aggressive in eradicating any trace of religion from the public sphere, whereas the Americans seem more concerned about avoiding government endorsement of any particular religion. Students may pray openly and wear religious symbols in US public schools, acts which are not tolerated in French public institutions.


    Laicity tends to be imposed on societies that were formerly dominated by a single religion. Modern Turkey is a good analogue to France. Ataturk imposed laicity on a society that was overwhelmingly Muslim, just like France was overwhelmingly Catholic when the Directorate abolished the Church from the public sphere. Mexico is another example - the society was heavily Catholic when the Mexican state expropriated Church possessions. The US, on the other hand, has never been dominated by a single religious sect. It was heavily Protestant for most of its history, but there is no centralization to Protestantism.

     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2013
  8. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Although laïcité is brandished by those who want to ban Muslim scarves, I'm not sure that laicity / secularism is at stake here in France.
    Muslim scarves are seen by some (OK, by many) as a problem for two completely distinct reasons:

    • There are those who don't like "Muslim" immigrants;
    • And those who consider the Muslim scarf as a symbol of oppression of women.
    This is a sad case of creeping racism (the "new" concept of droite décomplexée) meets Women's Lib, I think.
    Our laïcité was never an obstacle to nuns in hospitals, necklaces with a cross in post offices or kippas in the street.
    But now it has become a good excuse to say "we don't want to see you anymore"...
     
  9. swintok Senior Member

    English - Canada
    This is an incredibly hot topic in Canada right now. Google "Charte des valeurs québecois" or "Charter of Québec values" to see the arguments rage. I agree with the distinction between séculaire and laic and see this as the root of the debate. The Anglo-American understanding of individual rights vs. a Québec (Latin) understanding of societal rights or duties is in this case a clash between the séculaire and the laic. (It's also petty politicking on the part of the Parti québecois to try to shore up an increasingly marginalised base of aging separatists).

    In the secular society, religion and religious expression is a personal thing that is not restricted unless there is a detrimental effect on the personal rights of another or in very restricted and practical administrative situations. Examples are the requirement to unveil to a passport official when entering the country so as to establish your identity or for Sikh children to have to wear a bicycle helmet regardless of the fact they also have a turban. Sikh children, however, are allowed to wear a kirpan (ritual daggar) to school so long as it cannot be taken out and used (it is usually sewn into the clothing). Therefore, in a secular state no religion or religious expression should be promoted in the public space, but none is unnecessarily prohibited.

    In the laic society, however, religion and religious expression is a purely personal thing that has no room in the public space. Therefore public expressions of religious sentiment should not be allowed especially in government offices (including schools, daycares, etc.) to preserve the non-religious face of the state.
     
  10. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    On a side note, secular (non-religious) is séculier and secular (centennial) is séculaire :).
     
  11. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    I realize that this last sentence could be (rightly?) held against me.
    Women's Lib are definitely right — unless they object against the will of those women who want (for whatever reason) to wear a scarf.
    Tolerance is not about "they're wrong, yet I accept them."
    It's all about "I think they're wrong, now maybe they're right".
    The reason why they want to wear a scarf is not within our logic; yet it may be understandable — if we try and understand.
     
  12. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    The thing is, it's hard to know if women have accepted themselves to put on Islamic dress or if someone is putting the idea in their hand and or coercing them into wearing them. I have seen both experiences. I know of an American woman who accepted Islam and started to wear a full chador covering everything but her face. She explained she felt God was always accompanying her and protecting her. Okay,by me, but in France she couldn't live her lifestyle. On the other hand, I once saw in a park in a 11-13 year old Turkish girl being forced to wear a headscarf against her will. She obviously didn't like it and her parents were noticeably bullying her. I felt really uncomfortable and thought that in France everyone would have been on her side.

    Otherwise, I don't think Laïcité in France is directed in particular against Muslims, but at devoted believers of any religion. If you are even a devout Catholic, the supposed majority religion, go to mass weekly, pray ostensibly, wear crosses, say God bless you, talk bible speak with others, are for creationism etc... it would not be tolerated either and is equally looked down on. What is common practice in some countries is considered Taliban in France. Whatever faith you have, you must hush in public, practice it in silence and away from the gaze of others.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  13. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    Thank you, JdS, for having amended that. The problem is not feminism but its instrumentalization by rightwing or extreme right parties. Same as laïcité.

    It is not that extreme. Even people who do not define themselves as RC (or Protestant, or Christian in general) say "mon Dieu !" all the time and this is not frowned upon. I have practising Catholic and Protestant friends, acquaintances or relatives who don't hush in public about going to church. Some people may find them weird, but not Taliban unless they assume extreme positions on creationism or the like (the official stance of the Catholic church is not 100% creationist as far as I know, but I am no theologian to discuss that). I do think there is a targeted misuse of laïcité against Muslims, creating an exacerbated response.
     
  14. jsvillar Senior Member

    Madrid
    SP - SP
    I totally agree with your first sentence, although you can change the rules by voting and expressing your opinion. As for the second part, the problem is past history: Spain was officially a catholic country until 35 years ago, so all society has still many rules that relate to that time. Military units have a patron saint, the royal family does a yearly visit to the tomb of St. James... Public schools still offer a religion class as an option, but you can choose ethics instead of religion, and the grades for those classes are not official. Some (very few) public schools are offering other religions, mainly for muslim inmigrants, but that is quite expensive, so the implementation goes really slow. The truth is that I pay my taxes, so why should I pay a private school for something that is an acquired right? Why should I take my son to Sunday School if the schools can provide that service?
    However we are starting to have a social movement towards laicité. It is not as in France, where I think laicité is one of the basic principles of the country, but probably we will end up arriving to the same situation and probably that will be for the best.
     
  15. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    This is very interesting. The U.S. is more secular than it used to be (and I think that's a good thing, even though I was raised Christian) but I can't imagine someone wanting the schools to do the job of Sunday School. They are separate here. If anything, the concern would probably be that the public schools would do a bad job of religious education. :) Seriously, it wouldn't fly unless each child could pick a religion or no religion to study. And what happens if the child chooses Islam and the parents are Christian? It would create quite a mess here. No, Church and State are distinct here and more distinct than they were in my childhood. Personally, I think that's a good thing for both the Church and the State.

    I guess the question would be: is it the government's job to educate children in the ways of their family's religion or only one religion? Don't you think the Muslim children should be afforded the same service from the public schools -- that is, having their own children be taught their parents' religion? And I'm very curious what you mean "that is an acquired right". What is the acquired right you are referring to?
     
  16. jsvillar Senior Member

    Madrid
    SP - SP
    The thing is that until 40 years ago, religious education was one of the duties of public schools, so we don't have so clear the separation between education and religion as you have in the US. From that point of view, people consider it an acquired right: public schools have always (maybe with a gap during the 2nd republic, 1931 to 1939?) taught religion.
    As for other religions, Spain has an agreement with the Vatican (signed when catholicism wasn't any more the official religion) that says that public schools will teach religion in public schools as they have always done (as an option to Ethics, never as an additional class, so the student doesn't have an incentive not to take religion). The different governments have issued laws that give those rights to other religions, mainly muslims, but the implementation of those plans is going really slow because of cost and logistics. And then you have the problem of minor religions, a school cannot have a choice of all existing religions to study.

    So, I probably agree with you, this I'm telling you is quite weird and when you start to analyze it the only argument is 'because of our catholic tradition', 'because it has always been done', 'because the majority wants it' (not anymore)..., so probably it would make more sense to move to a real laicism, as in France. It will take time, though.
     
  17. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    France's laicism [is that an English word...?] has been earmarked by the affaire Calas at Voltaire's time.
    Voltaire just proved that religion should have no right to dictate laws.
    The problem is that the proof is now held against those who should benefit from tolerance : our laws are now written against religious tolerance, in the name of laicism....
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  18. learnerr Senior Member

    Russian
    A side remark: this is not how, I think, tolerance is to be understood. First, there are many things that do not fit in the realm of right and wrong; actually, they seem to be more numerous than those that fit. Traditions, customs, choices, etc. You can either tolerate what you neither like nor accept, or not; the first is called tolerance. Next, one could say people do indeed have the right to be wrong, and, in contradiction to your first sentence, I do see tolerance in acknowledgement of this right. Well, the concept of right looks artificial to me, since it's really just a human's invention, not anything natural, and not always anything well-based or well-developed, so I prefer to say that there is no sure means to make people right, and there is no good and sure means to get rid of people's being wrong. So, the only choice is to either tolerate the general wrongness upon failing to accept its parts or not; but the second is suicidal.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  19. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Non. Whether or not it is the exact equivalent, we normally say secularism. Otherwise use the French word laïcité in italics.

    An interesting tidbit that I learned recently is contrary to the rest of France religion is officially taught in public schools in Alsace and Lorraine. See here.

    I don't think it's a bad thing that religion be taught in school. It's an enriching experience and can be taught from various perspectives... philosophy, history, ethics, civilization... not necessarily as a creed to follow obediently.
     
  20. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Agreed, but then it makes sense to teach comparative religions or a survey of religions. Why pick one? That's just my point of view.
     
  21. merquiades

    merquiades Senior Member

    France
    USA Northeast
    Yes, I would give a sampling of a few different kinds, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism etc.
     

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